Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Three Legged Stool. . .

It is annoying for me to go into a restaurant and to have a table that rocks and tips.  That just really bugs me no end.  Your water sloshes and spills.  Every time you lean against it as you chat everything comes toppling your way.  It is a chronic symptom of a table with four legs on an uneven floor.  It is next to impossible to get each of the legs the precisely needed length and if you do manage to do that, when the table is moved only a few inches to a new position the rocking begins again.  

A three legged stool on the other hand will never tip.  It is geometrically impossible for that to happen.  It takes three points to define a plane.  Get a three legged milk stool and cut the legs to differing lengths all you want, place it on the most uneven floor imaginable and it will not wobble and rock.  Those three legs define a flat surface, and are inherently stable.

I believe that our relationship with God is built upon communication with Him and this communication has three legs on which it stands.  Each leg is necessary and when combined properly with the other two elements, will give us great stability and like the stool, when resting on these three components our relationship with God will be impossible to rock.

Worship: In Worship, we talk to God

Worship is not about singing pretty songs.  It's not about having a wonderful voice.  I am in church today largely as a result of one man's worship.  I came to church the first Sunday in June of 2000, merely to say thank you to a church for their prayers.  I came into the doors of the church that day as an atheist, not understanding why people who did not know me, would spend time praying for me.  I was grateful.  I was touched by their praying for me, but I still did not believe in God.  My intention in coming to church that morning was only to say thank you to them.  

The service opened with music and song.  The Spirit of worship was powerful, in particular I saw an older man, whom I estimated to be in his 70's, worshiping God with everything he had.  I was fascinated.  I kept my eyes upon him.  He was passionate.  This was no mere song he was singing.  This man was pouring out his heart to the Lord, telling Him how much he loved him.  I couldn't understand a man of his age being so fervent.  Why wasn't he napping on a back pew?  How many thousands of songs had he sung in his many decades of church attendance, but I could see that his worship was not a burden to him.  It was fresh and alive. . .It was obvious to me that God was so very real to him.  This man's worship created a hunger within me for what he had.  That man's worship, that man's faith demonstrated the reality of God to me. I still had great unbelief, but I greatly wanted that relationship with God. 

I tell the men and women at the jail to give themselves completely over to worship.  For a few moments immerse yourselves in the presence of God.  Tell Him how much you love Him.  Focus completely upon Him.  Let every other care of your life fall away and just stand in His presence.  Tell Him of your love for Him.  Feel His love for you in return.  You can be healed during worship.  Your bondage can be broken.  You can be set free.  There is power in worship.  We are created to worship God.  He accepts our worship and deserves it.  The Bible says that God inhabits the praises of His people.  

I worship not only when I am in church.  That is surely a good thing, but we need to worship God all day long.  I compare our typical worship of God at church, the singing of hymns along with the choir, I compare that to the buying of a card at the drugstore for someone I love.  I know that my wife appreciates a boughten card with loving words and a pretty picture on it.  She hopes that I have spent some time looking at different cards and that I have chosen one that reflects my feelings toward her, but. . .but. . . but!!!. . .How much more does she appreciate the words of my own writing and the making my own little card.  It will surely not be as professionally done as the one by Hallmark, but I know she values it and finds is so very much more precious, for all the polish it might appear to lack, she finds in it a sincerity and depth of meaning much more precious to her than the one purchased at the store.

I suspect that might be God's heart also.  He surely values our singing in church, but how much more intimate and valuable might he find our own words. . . our tears of appreciation and gratitude shed for Him as we drive in our car or walk in the park meditating upon His goodness and glory.  

We need to find a way to worship even when we do not feel like it.  I find it impossible to continue to be angry or depressed when I fully devote myself to worship.  I fought depression for many years.  Worship was key in overcoming depression.  How many times have my wife and I pulled into the church parking lot on a Sunday morning having a little squabble, bickering about some unimportant thing like married people do.  A moment or two after the church service begins and we begin to worship. . .our hands join and we are again united in our spirit.  That is the power of worship to heal, to drive away spirits of discord and anger. . . We need worship. . .We must have it as part of our relationship with God.

Devotions: In reading the Bible, God talks to us

I sometimes envy the men and women in jail.  For everything that they don't have, they do have an abundance of time.  They have endless hours of the day in which to immerse themselves in the Word of God.  There is power in His Word and we need that power.  If we are going to believe in God, then we must also believe in Satan.  It is clear that Satan knows that you exist, if you don't know that he exists and that he will do everything in his power to take you away from God, then you are at his mercy.  I tell the men and women at the jail, it's not a question of if, but rather of when you will be tempted.  When you walk out those doors Satan will be waiting for you to welcome you back into your old ways, into your old life.

You will unexpectedly, maybe at the grocery store, run into someone from your past.  "Hey Man, where have you been?  Let's go over to my crib and talk."  The warning sirens should be wailing in your head.  "No man.  Let's go to McDonald's and get a cup of coffee.  Let's talk there."  Satan knows your weaknesses.  A wonderful lady in our church,  was formerly a meth addict.  She now counts having been a Sunday School teacher, as among other things she's done in the church,.  She was delivered by God.  She was given complete freedom from her addiction.  She had been clean from meth for a few months.  One night she let her little dog out into her yard to do its business.  When she let the little dog back in, it had a bag of dope in its mouth.  I've heard similar stories time and again.  A former crack addict gets clean and finds a rock of crack laying on the steps to his apartment.  In my case, I had not smoked in several months when I went a shopping mall in a nearby city.  It has a huge parking lot. . . I don't know probably 40 or 50 acres of parking.  It was in early March.  It was sloppy with slush and melting snow.  I chose a parking spot and as I opened the door to my truck, there in a dry spot on the pavement lay an unopened box of the same brand of cigars that I smoked.  It wasn't run over.  It wasn't wet.  It was in perfect condition, as if waiting for me.

Now you can say that these things are mere coincidence, but if that were the case, if it were just random chance then I should have found cans of soup, packages of prime rib, shaving cream, candy, boxes of playing cards, baseball mitts, tennis balls. . . I don't know. . .all manner of every other thing under the sun in the parking lot as I opened my truck door, but I didn't.  I found that which tempted me.  Make no mistake we are in a war.  Metaphors of war are all throughout the Bible:

Ephesians 6:11-17
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  (12)  For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.  (13)  Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  (14)  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;  (15)  And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  (16)  Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  (17)  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

We are to put on the whole armor: The breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace upon your feet, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation.  Too many people stop here, and thinking themselves safe they go no further.  So far, this is only defensive equipment.  Armor is all for defense.  You can dress up in the best armor possible and go walking down a dark alley.  A man with baseball bat and a knife will come along and he will begin whacking and whacking on your armor until he opens a gap and then he will stick the knife in and you will be dead.  Why?  You have no offensive weapon to keep him from closing in on you.  Without an offensive weapon the best armor will do you no good.  The Word of God is our offensive weapon, but it is not just the reading of it that makes it an effective weapon.

I can have a weapon, but if I leave it at home on top of my dresser, then it is unavailable and therefore useless to me when I am in need of it.  Our mind is the battleground where this war for our soul takes place.  Rather than just casually reading the Bible, I need to study it.  I need to take it within me.  I need to memorize verses to use as weapons when I am under spiritual attack.  In Matthew chapter 4, when Jesus was tempted three times of the devil, He did nothing but quote scripture.  This was as a lesson for us.  Jesus surely had the power to handle the devil on His own, but for our benefit He showed us how to use the Word of God as a weapon.

When your mind begins to descend into places that it should not be, when thoughts of fear or lust or anger, depression, or envy. . .thoughts of using begin to enter your mind you must immediately begin to battle those thoughts with the sword of the Spirit.  You must make these thoughts come to submission, rebuke them and not allow them to gain a foothold within you.  I have a few favorite verses that I use.  I fill my mind with the word of God and drive away the spiritual attack.  The Bible says: Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).  The devil is a coward.  It is not recorded where he ever fought a battle.  By fear, by the instilling of fear in us he looks for us to surrender without a fight, but given resistance he runs from us.  Some favorite verses of mine for this purpose are Psalms 46:10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Romans 8:28, and II Timothy 1:7.  There is power in the Word of God. . . We need the word of God. . .

Prayer: In Prayer, we talk to Him and He talks to us

I once knew someone (notice I did not call them a friend) who would call me on the phone and I really believe that they started the conversation as they were still dialing my number, for when I would answer they already had a full head of steam and I really had to scramble to try and figure out what they were talking about and where they were in this very one sided conversation.  In a few minutes they would get what ever it was off their chest, say goodbye and hang up.  I'm sure they felt better, and maybe they even considered me to be a good friend, but there was nothing of me and nothing for me in this relationship.  It was totally one-sided. 

When I first came to God that is similarly to how I viewed prayer.  To me prayer seemed to be very shallow and one directional.  I knew of the Lord's prayer.  I knew of saying grace before meals and I knew of, "Now I lay me down to sleep. . .", the praying of memorized prayers.  The main purpose of prayer, seemed to me to be the petitioning of God, the asking of Him to do things for me and that surely is an appropriate type of prayer.  He is our Father and what Father minds when His children ask Him for things that they need, but if that were all my children ever did, if we never had any other conversations, if the only time they bothered calling me is when they needed something that would get very very old.  I would feel used and eventually I would become resentful.  A very helpful tool in establishing a prayer life, is to imagine your time with God like the face of a clock.  Divide your time with Him up into five minute segments.  For example:
    1.  Ask for forgiveness, repent of things you have done that were not pleasing to Him since you last talked to Him. 
    2. Thank Him and worship Him for all the blessings in your life, 
    3. Intercede (fervently pray for God to do a work in the lives of others) for friends, neighbors, people you know at work, 
    4. Tell Him about your day, about your fears, your hopes, and your dreams, 
    5. Pray scripture.  Take a single verse or a passage of verses, such as the Lord's prayer, read them slowly or repeat the words in your mind, spending time focusing on each word, visualizing what the words mean and what the Lord is trying to tell you.  Ask Him to explain the meaning of difficult verses to you.  Ask Him to show you new levels of meaning in familiar verses.  Ask Him to let His Word come alive in you.
    6. Ask God what He wants you to work on in your life.
    7. Ask God what you should be praying for.
    8. Spend significant time waiting and listening for God to talk to you.  Focus on Him.  Visualize His wonder and grace.  Open your heart, open your mind to Him.  Keep your mind open for images from Him, directions. . . listen for a small still voice.

I used to wonder how I could ever fill up 15 minutes with prayer.  Now I pray during much of the day long and I never get tired of it.  I used to hate waiting for anything.  Now I relish sitting and waiting in the doctor's office, or standing in a long line at the supermarket, or waiting for a long slow train.  I pray.  Every opportunity I get I pray.  I pray for the people whom I see as I shop in the grocery store.  I pray for my co-workers as I walk to get coffee.  I love to walk with my dog in a park or in wild places and pray in the solitude of nature.

This metaphor of a three legged stool is interesting.  As I mentioned above, it is true that a three legged stool cannot tip.  Cut the legs however you may and you will never get it to rock, but you can get the legs so out of kilter that the stool is useless.  Imagine a stool with one leg 20 inches long, another leg 10 inches long and the third leg a mere 5 inches long.  It is true the stool will not tip, but no one could ever sit on the seat.  It would be useless.  The seat would be at such a severe angle to the ground that you could never stay on the stool.  That is what would happen if you get out of balance in your ways of communicating with God.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He replied:

Matthew 22:37-38
 . . .Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.

To love Him with all your heart is to love Him with your true and fervent worship. . .
To love Him with all your soul is to be deeply and continually prayerful. . .
To love Him with all your mind is to completely and sincerely immerse yourself in His Word. . .

It would not be a correct relationship with God if all you wanted to do was to worship and neglected to pray or to read your Bible.  This would be a very frivolous and shallow relationship.  This would be like a friend who only showed up for your birthday party, but never wanted any other contact with you.  It is fine and indeed necessary to worship, but that alone cannot sustain us.  We cannot only listen to Christian songs on the radio and worship God in our car on our way back and forth to work and have no other contact with God.  We need, in addition to worship, the more substantiative time of devotions and prayer to balance the emotional intensity of worship.  

With true and fervent worship a perspective of humility is gained.  Tears are shed.   We may end up in a position of prostrating ourselves before Him. . . overcome with His presence. . . totally submitting to Him in our praise.  We magnify the Lord.  We build Him up and by comparison it becomes obvious how puny, insignificant, and dependent on Him we are.

Likewise having a relationship with God that consisted of only reading your Bible would also be very unhealthy and unbalanced.  That kind of relationship would be dry and dusty.  The words of the Bible were written at a minimum of roughly 2000 years ago, through them God is speaking to all mankind, all across the ages.  We need the Truth of the Bible, but we need more.  Do not misread me.  I am not in any way saying that reading the Word of God is not important.  It is just that as an atheist I knew many Christians who to me appeared to only have such a book knowledge of God and little else.  They had no impact upon me.  They created no hunger within me.  Theirs was a joyless, rule filled spirituality.  I never heard from them anything about what God was doing today.  All they knew (or at least all they ever told me about) was what He had done  1000's of years ago.  My thought was that if He hadn't done anything in 2000 years then He must indeed be dead.  In our devotions we necessarily learn about holiness, about His plan of salvation, and about how God desires us to live our lives, but without the softening influence of prayer and worship I believe we would tend to be as the Pharisee's, experts on the rules, but short on humility and love.

As much as I like to pray, there also is a danger in only being a prayer and not a worshiper and not a reader of God's word.  Prayer is largely an introspective internal activity done without other people.  Jesus went into the wilderness, to the top of a mountain or to a secluded garden at midnight to pray.   I believe if excessively practiced to the exclusion of the other legs of our relationship, prayer alone would tend to make one as a mystic, potentially leading us into very strange realms.  In secluding oneself from the world, you would be host to a sequestered monastic spirituality.  As attractive as the life of a cloistered monk might seem, that is not what Jesus commanded our role to be in this world.  That would be a selfish form of religion, a sterile form, not begetting much of anything aside from ones own own enlightenment.

Without a balanced relationship with God it is impossible to function fully as Christians.  We can have a relationship with Him with only one or two legs of the stool, but we will be greatly hindered in our effectiveness in reaching our fellow man.

Matthew 28:19-20  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (20)  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

We are to teach and witness and baptize.  We are to be active in our fellow man's lives.  We are to love our fellow man, and we are to reach our fellow man, but before we can do that, we must first necessarily love and know God with everything we have. . . Again:

Matthew 22:37-39  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  (38)  This is the first and great commandment.  (39)  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The complete loving and knowing of God comes before the loving and reaching of our fellow man. . .
The complete loving and knowing of God comes from a full and well rounded relationship. . .from a complete relationship with Him. . .

I love you my God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Friend - here is beautiful prayer to use to talk to the GOD who created you and me:
In the name of God, the
Most Gracious, the Most
2. All praises and thanks
be to God, the Lord of
the universe.
3. The Most Gracious, the
Most Merciful.
4. The Master of the Day of
5. You Alone we worship,
and You Alone we ask
for help.
6. Guide us to the straight
7. The path of those on
whom You have
bestowed Your Favors,
not the path of those
who earned Your
wrath, and not of those
who go astray.